May 22, 2010 in Nation/World

Soldiers face probe in deaths

Investigation involves unit from Fort Lewis
Dion Nissenbaum McClatchy
 

KABUL, Afghanistan – The U.S. military is investigating allegations that a small group of American soldiers deliberately killed three Afghan civilians in a series of shootings earlier this year, Western officials familiar with the case said Friday.

Military officials have detained one soldier with the Army’s 5th Stryker Brigade based in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, said the officials.

If the allegations prove to be true, they could undermine the U.S. military’s already shaky credibility in southern Afghanistan as it gears up to target the Taliban’s spiritual capital in Kandahar.

The military is funneling soldiers to Kandahar as part of a campaign to weaken the Taliban’s hold on crucial parts of the province, but the case could make it harder to convince skeptical Afghans to back the campaign.

The allegations center on as many as nine soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Battalion, at Forward Operating Base Ramrod, a remote outpost west of Kandahar city. The brigade is part of the 2nd Infantry Division, based at Fort Lewis, Wash.

The soldiers initially were under investigation for drug charges, officials said, but that led to allegations that the unit had taken part in killing three Afghan civilians in a series of confrontations over several months, according to two officials familiar with the details.

The U.S. military issued a brief statement Thursday saying that criminal investigators were looking into allegations that a “small number of U.S. soldiers were responsible for the unlawful deaths of as many as three Afghan civilians.”

The 5th Stryker Brigade moved into Kandahar last summer, when roadside bombs were taking a high toll on U.S. forces. Thirty-two soldiers from the brigade have been killed since July.


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